Date of Completion

January 1987


Anthropology, Archaeology




Four midden sites located in close proximity on the southern shore of the Great Salt Pond of Block Island, Rhode Island were excavated in 1986. These sites represent a temporal sequence extending from the early Middle Woodland (ca. 200 B.C.-A.D. 500) to the Contact Period (A.D. 1700). Excellent shell and bone preservation in these sites provide a unique opportunity to study patterns of subsistence change and to relate these to changes in settlement patterns and sociopolitical complexity of prehistoric-historic Amerindian cultures of southern New England.^ The purpose of this analysis is (1) to determine the availability of faunal resources and the nature of habitats exploited; (2) to determine the significance of shellfish gathering, fishing, and maritime and terrestrial hunting in the total seasonal subsistence round; and (3) to ascertain the degree of culture change and continuity of Block Island Amerindians over the last 1700 years.^ Faunal assemblages of the Mott's Midden (RI 1407), Trims Pond (RI 124), Island Cemetery (RI 120), and Fort Island (RI 118) sites were analyzed for seasonality of occupation, environmental catchment utilization, animal exploitation patterns, and site type, size and activities.^ Results suggest a pattern of cultural continuity through the Woodland Period followed by a change in the use of faunal resources at early historic times. The Middle to Late Woodland sites are base camps occupied from winter to early spring, whose occupants concentrated on inshore, littoral animal species, especially sea mammals and migratory birds. The Contact Period Fort Island Site is the only year round village occupation and the only site yielding evidence of the use of maize. In addition, animal exploitation patterns shifted to a greater use of marine fishing and inland freshwater resources.^ Culture changes on Block Island occurred late in prehistory and in response to the advent of horticulture as a resource base. Horticultural activities would favor a shift toward sedentary settlement on the island and the increased span of occupation would lead to different animal procurement patterns. During early historic times, the increased production of wampum as a means of exchange with European traders may have accentuated the processes leading to larger and more sedentary populations on Block Island. ^